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Convergence Now Means Picking a Side

Gordon Kelly

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Convergence Now Means Picking a Side

GordonConvergence is great, right? Your phone is your camera, your GPS, your games console; your TV is your web browser, your social hub, your on-demand media centre… and everything works together. It should be amazing, but that isn't how it's panning out. In reality convergence is exposing a sinister dark side: segregation by brand.

Today you don't buy a device, you buy into an ecosystem. Take the iPhone, for example. The apps you buy you will have to buy them again if you jump ship to Google or Microsoft. But these apps will transfer to an iPad and it synchronises with an iPhone so you might as well make your tablet one of those. Then along comes Mac OS X 10.8 'Mountain Lion' which integrates aspects of the iOS user interface, messaging functionality, back-up and more. Your computer should be a Mac then.

iCloud

Do you want your Mac, iPhone and iPad content on your TV? Apple's proprietary AirPlay wireless streaming is the way to go and that requires an AirPlay Express module or Apple TV. Might as well go the whole hog and buy an AirPlay music dock and AirPlay wireless printer too… all because you bought a phone, or any one of these devices.

Windows 8

Some might say that is Apple being Apple, but everyone is going the same way. Take Microsoft. It's Windows Phone interface (formerly called 'Metro') is now a locked in part of Windows 8, again both synchronise and apps between the platforms will be "mostly" compatible. Both Windows Phone and Windows 8 will also seamlessly integrate with an Xbox, your Xbox Live account and forthcoming Windows 8 tablets. Great, except you must have a Windows Live account and your data must be stored using SkyDrive.

Android

Even Google, the great proprietor of "Don't Be Evil" and pusher of open standards is getting in on the act. Every owner of an Android or Chrome OS device must have a Gmail user account before the device will start and from that point Gmail takes over your mail, contacts and calendar and even pushes the company's social network upon you. Meanwhile your printer works using Google Print and Google Drive is slowly taking over the storage of all your files. Enough!

Martin Daler

August 6, 2012, 1:10 pm

I run an Android phone, but my email is via Hotmail. I did have to create a gmail account, but that is as far as it went. There is no reason to actually use it, is there? Certainly I would never synchronise my contacts to google's servers. I just sunc them locally to Outlook on my PC as a backup.

As to the schemes of the big players, of course it serves their purposes to build walls and prevent the comoditisation fo their offering. They don't want to end up like ibuprofen, a 19p packet on the supermarket shelf. The more they can coax/hoax you into 'investing' (sinking money) into their exclusive ecosystem, the more they can charge you for the privilege, since the apparent cost of exit is the greater. The unfortunate truth is that this is a strategy which works to the players mutual advantage when it is copied by all of them, like store loyalty cards.

Russell Peto

August 6, 2012, 1:46 pm

This is a great article, one of the best I've read on the site in a while. One other phenomenon I've noticed with this 'picking a side' is that it also seems to aggravate the Apple vs. Microsoft vs. Google mentality that you see destroying meaningful discussion on tech forums across the web.

There are ways around this ecosystem locking, NAS systems that support iTunes, DropBox for file synchronisation etc.

Is there any mileage in an article on how to agnostically and centrally store your data so that you can once again use the devices you want without losing the functionality?

Gordon394

August 6, 2012, 11:18 pm

I can relate. I didn't mention it in the article, but it came from the fact I use Google for my email, calendar and contacts, an iPhone and Windows 7 desktop and laptop computers.

I like this blend, but I don't get full advantage of any ecosystem. I'd happily go all in on ecosystem to try it, but the commitment and struggle to get out again stops me.

Gordon394

August 6, 2012, 11:22 pm

Many thanks Russell (see my reply above as to where it came from). I actually wrote a paragraph speaking about how this enforced side picking is essentially responsible for creating fanboys, but deleted it because it didn't feel necessary to stoke that fire. That alone tells you everything you need to know about how this has gone too far...

There probably is some mileage is the article you suggest, though you largely nail it: a NAS (all have iTunes server built in), a Spotify/Rdio account and Dropbox will do a decent job. Meanwhile Gmail is a decent choice for your email/contacts/calendar if you do have to pick one of the big three as it agnostic enough to work well on just about any platform.

I'll have a dig and see what else I can come up with :)

PGrGr

August 7, 2012, 1:07 pm

I have been thinking about this article since I read it yesterday. I use a Windows XP PC at work, a Mac at home, an Android Phone and a PS3. Like you, Gordon, I have been unwilling to sacrifice myself fully to any one of these systems, and I tend to rely, where I can, on system agnostic services, such as gmail and Spotify. But there are always limitations.

I can't use Spotify through my AV system at home without physically plugging my laptop into my amplifier. I would like to run it through the PS3, but Sony are too hung up on selling their own music store, which I am not interested in. Equally, all this business being able to display the media from your phone through you TV, using Airplay, or the Nexus Q, is irrelevant if you get your music through a streaming service like Spotify.

I can't help but feel that I am not quite getting 100% out of any one of my devices because I am not prepared to totally commit to an ecosystem. That's the price of compromise. Liveable with for now, but worrying, all the same.

Is the direction that Mac OS is going in good or bad? They're integrating services like Facebook and Twitter, so on the surface of it, that's great. They are making it easy to have a cloud presence, irrespective of the hardware you are using. But that only works if the cloud based services you use are the ones Apple happen to approve of. For me, the killer feature of Google+ has been the Instant Upload of all my phone photos. Its automatic and limitless in terms of storage capacity. This feature completely eliminates the requirement for a manual backup of photos. I don't really use Google+ for anything else (and neither does anyone else, apparently) but this is a really useful feature. What's the chances of Apple integrating Google+ into their OS in the future?

However, despite their proclaimed commitment to openness, even Google don't make it particularly easy to export your photos from Google+. Yes, there's an option to download photos, but only one at a time. There's no batch download, or album download option, unless you use the standalone Picassa software from your client machine. And if you try to download a Google+ video, it does work, but it comes in a bizarre format.

As I said before, it's all a little worrying.

Gordon394

August 7, 2012, 7:11 pm

You hit the nail on the head. Dropbox and Spotify are my agnostic programmes of choice along with the Instacast app for podcasts which is available on most mobile platforms.

Given the acrimonious split between Apple and Google now (even the native YouTube app is being pulled from the iPhone with iOS6 now) I think any chance of Google+ integration is remote. The lack of a successful social networking platform must drive Apple crazy, but if it did have one that - as you say - would be something else to worry about!

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